BALTIMORE, 05-17-12 – Jockey Mario Gutierrez proved again Thursday morning that he could handle himself on stage. The Kentucky Derby winning rider showed confidence and a good sense of humor during a news conference for Saturday’s Preakness outside the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course.
Gutierrez, 25, has been a top jockey at little Hastings Park in Vancouver, B.C. for a few years but had his first taste of national and international attention when he rode I’ll Have Another to victory in the Derby on May 5.
Asked what his life has been like since the Derby, Gutierrez smiled and nodded toward the large media group standing in front of him.
“Like this,” he said.
Gutierrez headed back to Hollywood Park after the Kentucky Derby then traveled to Vancouver before flying to Baltimore to ride I’ll Have Another in the 137th Preakness. He smiled when a reporter asked if the post-Derby attention was too exciting for him.
“It’s new, that’s for sure,” he said.
And the native of Mexico said the media has shown a great deal more interest in him since his victory at Churchill Downs.
“Yeah, before nobody wanted to talk to me,” he said.
Gutierrez rode I’ll Have Another to victory in the Robert B. Lewis (G2) on Feb. 4 at Santa Anita in what was a career-changing race. They won the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 7, and the Kentucky Derby win made them 3-for-3.
Little used early in the Santa Anita meet, Gutierrez finished 13th in the Equibase jockey standings with a 13-19-10 record from 127 starts with purse earnings of $1,017,934.
Gutierrez said he was looking forward to getting a feel for Pimlico on two scheduled mounts Thursday afternoon. It didn’t take him long to acquaint himself with the Pimlico winner’s circle, which he visited with his first mount, My Name Is Ralphie, in the second race. He noted that he had only two rides at Churchill Downs prior to the Derby.
I’ll Have Another’s owner J. Paul Reddam, and the colt’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, described Gutierrez as a composed and cool competitor. Gutierrez said he was sure he will handle the pressure in the Preakness, just like he did in the Derby.
“A lot of people thought I was going to melt down there,” Gutierrez said. “You know what? The horse is going to take me there. I believe in the horse. He did it for me in the Kentucky Derby, he’s looking great and he’s going to do it again. I’m not doing anything. The horse is just proving a lot of people wrong.”
Reddam said he usually prefers to use established, high-profile jockeys, but noticed Gutierrez at Santa Anita and asked O’Neill to check him out.
“Mario went over to Hollywood Park and worked I’ll Have Another before the Lewis, Doug called up and had a very favorable impression of Mario,” Reddam said. “He said, ‘He’s really a nice guy and very sincere. He seemed to really get along with the horse well and has really light hands, and if you want to ride him, I’d be OK with giving him a shot.’
“The first time I met Mario was in the walking ring before the Lewis. I didn’t know quite what to expect. He came out and was cool and confident and I thought, ‘this is going to be all right.’
“Generally speaking, my feeling is that I would like to have the top riders riding my horses. I think that Doug likes to spread the love among the jockey colony, so he rides lots of guys. There’s just a few that I prefer to ride. This was kind of a step out of the box, one of those weird intuitions that you get. It’s amazing when it works out, which isn’t too often, I suppose.”
Although Gutierrez said his business hasn’t increased much since the Kentucky Derby, O’Neill said that will change.
“Mario, to me, is the closest thing to Rafael Bejarano,” O’Neill said. “He’s just a finesse rider. He’s able to get a horse to drop the bit and relax and when he calls on him, they grab the bit and want to take off. It’s just something that some guys have it and some don’t. Mario has it. And he’s such a confident, calm jockey. Some guys have that and some don’t. It won’t be long before his business picks up and we’ll be calling him and he’ll go, ‘Oops, I’m gone. I’m sorry you guys. I know we won the Derby together and everything, but I’ve got to ride for (Bob) Baffert.’
“He’ll be getting a lot of mounts here, very quickly. I know it.”
I’ll Have Another had a typical morning at Pimlico.
“He jogged about a half-mile straight off and then got into a seven-furlong gallop and finished up great,” O’Neill said. “We’re very happy with his energy and the way he’s training on a daily basis.”
BODEMEISTER– Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Bodemeister made his first visit to the main track at Pimlico Thursday morning, galloping 1 ½ miles under exercise rider George Alvarez after the renovation break.
“He was not looking around. He was all business out there,” Alvarez said of the colt who was shipped to Pimlico on Wednesday from Churchill Downs.
Owned by Zayat Stables LLC and Michel and Tiffany Moreno, Bodemeister drew post position No. 7 and was installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite in the field of 11 for the Preakness.
“He drew well,” five-time Preakness winning trainer Bob Baffert said of Bodemeister. “I didn’t want to be inside.”
Baffert left Louisville the day after Bodemeister’s Derby run and returned to Churchill Downs on Monday to confirm the colt’s status for the Preakness. He liked what he saw Monday and he liked what he saw this morning at Pimlico.
“His first day here went well. It looks like he took to the track nicely,” Baffert said. “He was pretty cool out there. I am not seeing anything to make me think anything different about him. He bounced right out of the Derby. His weight has held. He can handle it.”
Mike Smith has the return call on Bodemeister, who led the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field through sizzling fractions before yielding to I’ll Have Another just before the sixteenth pole and finishing 1 ½ lengths back.
“I was proud of him,” Baffert said. “He ran his race. When he cut the corner and opened up at the head of the stretch, I thought ‘maybe,’ but I could see at the eighth pole he was getting tired. He got beat a length and a half and held on for second. That was not disappointing. It was nothing like with Cavonnier (when Grindstone beat him by a nose at the wire in the 1996 Derby). Nothing was worse than the Cavonnier loss.”
Bodemeister figures to be on the lead again Saturday, most likely with the Derby winner close by.
“It will probably be the two of us unless somebody else wants to join the fray,” said Baffert, when asked to assess the field. “I figure the horses coming out of the Derby are the biggest threats. I don’t know much about the new shooters.”
Never worse than second in five starts in a career that did not begin until mid-January, Bodemeister already is a millionaire.
“I enjoy watching him run,” Baffert said. “He’s a pretty tough horse.”
WENT THE DAY WELL– Team Valor International and Mark Ford’s Went the Day Well galloped a mile, stood in the starting gate and galloped another mile at Pimlico Race Course Thursday morning.
Trainer Graham Motion, who shipped Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom to Pimlico last year on the morning of the Preakness, has opted to ship in Went the Day Well from Fair Hill Training Center a few days before Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Animal Kingdom dropped far back before making a strong wide run in the stretch to finish second, just a half-length behind victorious Shackleford.
“I thought the track was a little deeper,” said Motion, who sent Went the Day Well to Pimlico on Wednesday. “I never saw a horse come back with so much dirt in his face.”
While a lot of thought went into the decision to bring Went the Day Well to Pimlico early, Motion said it was an easy decision to run the fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher in the Preakness.
“We made a quick decision to run here after the Derby. It wasn’t a hard decision. He’s a horse that never seems to get tired, to be honest,” Motion said. “We’ve noticed when we work him or we run him that he never seems to get tired.”
Went the Day well was closing fastest of all at the finish of the Kentucky Derby, in which he got off to a slow start and encountered bumping before launching a late surge through the stretch. Went the Day Well finished just 2 ½ lengths behind the Doug O’Neill-trained winner, I’ll Have Another. After watching his late run, it wouldn’t seem far-fetched at all to think that the son of Proud Citizen could have won the Derby with a better trip.
“So many people can come back and say that after the Derby,” Motion said. “Doug’s horse had a great run. It somewhat amuses me that people want to talk about the other horses. He won the race. He was the best horse on the day. He had a great trip; we had a great trip last year. There’s always going to be horses that didn’t have a great trip in the Derby. Doug’s horse is the horse to beat.”
Although Motion admitted that he’s more comfortable flying under the radar heading into a big race, he enjoyed his experience leading up to last year’s Preakness.
“When you come to the Preakness with a Derby winner, that’s cool,” Motion said.
Yet, Animal Kingdom’s narrow loss still stings a little.
“I was kind of shocked to see Shackleford’s picture on the grandstand when I drove in this morning,” Motion said. “I kind of got a pit in my stomach.”
John Velazquez, who rode Animal Kingdom in both the Derby and Preakness, will have the return mount aboard Went the Day Well.
CREATIVE CAUSE– Trainer Mike Harrington arrived at Preakness Stakes Barn D shortly after the renovation break Thursday morning to visit his gray son of Giant’s Causeway the day after their cross-country flight from Los Angeles.
“The horse looks pretty good this morning,” said the 71-year-old conditioner, who will be saddling his first Preakness runner on Saturday. “He just walked today.”
Harrington removed the blinkers for Creative Cause’s last two races, including his fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, although he had previously worn blinkers in an impressive victory in the San Felipe over morning-line Preakness favorite Bodemeister.
“I thought he ran fine without the blinkers,” Harrington said. “In the San Felipe, he was kind of wandering around until Bodemeister came over to where he could see him, and when he saw him he took off. The rider (Joel Rosario) suggested maybe I should open the blinkers up. They already had a big hole in them, so I just took them off.”
In his next start in the Santa Anita Derby, Creative Cause was a fast-closing second to I’ll Have Another, losing by a nose. Then he finished a respectable fifth in Louisville after being forced eight-wide in the stretch run.
Harrington and owner Heinz Steinmann decided to take their colt back to California and weigh their options. They decided to come back East for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“Several people have asked me how come you came (to Baltimore), like it was foolish for him to come,” Harrington said. “He’s beaten both those horses (I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister) and he only got beat three lengths in the Derby, so why not come?”
TEETH OF THE DOG– J.W. Singer LLC’s Teeth of the Dog galloped 1 ½ miles and stood in the gate at Fair Hills Training Center Thursday morning.
Trainer Michael Matz said the third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial (G1) would likely ship to Pimlico from the Elkton, Md. training facility on Friday.
Teeth of the Dog, who will be ridden by Joe Bravo, will be Matz’s first Preakness starter since Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who suffered what proved to be fatal injuries in the 2006 Preakness.
“I have run some horses there on Preakness Day since then,” Matz said. “Obviously, things might go into the back of your mind what happened, but you just try to go on from there.”
DADDY NOSE BEST– Bob and Cathy Zollars’ Scat Daddy colt has settled in at Pimlico after shipping in from Louisville on Wednesday. The El Camino Real Derby (G3) and Sunland Park Derby (G3) winner went out for a gallop early Thursday morning.
Trainer Steve Asmussen didn’t talk about Daddy Nose Best as a possible starter for the Preakness after he finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby, but Asmussen’s longtime assistant, Scott Blasi, said the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown was being discussed quietly.
“Mr. Zollars put absolutely no pressure on us to run the horse,” Blasi said. “If the horse was good, came out of the race perfect, he wanted us to consider it. That’s why we waited so long to make the decision.
“The horse was training so well going up to the Derby. The Derby is an event; this is more like a horse race. That’s why we thought he deserved another chance.”
Blasi said the colt showed an ability to bounce back quickly last fall when he won an allowance race three weeks after competing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
“He ran an unbelievable race,” Blasi said. “We’re giving him another chance. He looks too good. He may not be good enough, but he may.”
Blasi said Daddy Nose Best will gallop and school in the gate on Friday morning.
Jockey Julien Leparoux will ride the colt in the Preakness.
COZZETTI– Albaugh Family Stable’s son of Cozzene went out after the renovation break and galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Mary Doser Thursday morning at Pimlico Race Course. The gray colt flew in from Louisville on Wednesday.
“He’s doing good; he ate everything last night,” said Doser, who is acting as assistant trainer until Dale Romans arrives Thursday night. “He tried to bite everybody, so I guess he’s all right.”
Romans saddled Shackleford for a victory over Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in last year’s Preakness.
Still looking for his first victory as a 3-year-old, Cozzetti will attempt to make Romans the first trainer to score back-to-back victories in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown since Bob Baffert accomplished the feat in 2001-02 with Point Given and War Emblem, respectively.
Cozzetti, who finished fourth behind Bodemeister in the Arkansas Derby in his last start, will be ridden again by Jose Lezcano. He will break from the outside post in the field of 11.
ZETTERHOLM– Winter Park Partners’ Silver Train colt galloped under exercise rider Mario Madrid Thursday morning after the renovation break.
“He did really well,” said assistant trainer Blake Dutrow, 20, who is handling Zetterholm for his uncle, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. “The track is a little better, so we let him do a little more. He handled the track very well. He got a little more out of his gallop today and seems a little more tired. That’s OK.”
Blake Dutrow said the New York-bred will gallop again Friday and school in the indoor paddock, where he will be saddled for the Preakness.
Zetterholm shipped from Aqueduct to Pimlico on Saturday and was the second Preakness runner to arrive at the track. With trainer Doug O’Neill opting to stable I’ll Have Another in Barn D, Zetterholm was assigned Stall 40 in the Preakness Stakes Barn, the space usually reserved for the Derby winner.
The stakes barn was rather quiet until Wednesday afternoon when a number of Preakness runners and other stakes horses arrived from California and Kentucky. Blake Dutrow said Zetterholm has adjusted to the increased activity level.
“He’s fine,” Dutrow said. “It’s not any more action that he gets on a regular day at Aqueduct. We’ve got so many horses there. There are a lot of people out and he just likes to stand and look and check it out. He handles everything very well. He’s a smart horse.”
Blake Dutrow is the grandson of the late Maryland training legend Richard Dutrow Sr. His father, Chip, has trained on his own and has worked for his brothers, Richard and Tony. Blake Dutrow grew up in Maryland and attended Old Mill High School in Millersville. He said the first Preakness he remembers attending was in 2001, won by Point Given, when his uncle Tony’s horse, Burning Roma, won the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes on the undercard.
“At that time, Tony and my dad were together,” Dutrow said. “It was kind of a big deal. I was just learning the game back then.”
Junior Alvarado has the return mount aboard Zetterholm Saturday.
OPTIMIZER– Trainer D. Wayne Lukas sent the son of English Channel out for a “restrained gallop” of about 1 ½ miles along with his other weekend runners on a sunny Thursday morning at Pimlico.
Had certain circumstances been different, the Hall of Fame conditioner admitted he might have chosen to run Optimizer in Saturday’s James W. Murphy Stakes instead of the Preakness Stakes.
“I’m not so sure if the grass race here had been a mile-and-an-eighth race, I wouldn’t have run him on the grass here and taken a soft approach and tried to win the Belmont,” Lukas said. “But because it’s a mile, I don’t think he could get up here.”
Owned byBrad Kelley’s Bluegrass Hall LLC, Optimizer began his career on the turf and broke his maiden at first asking at Saratoga last summer. He raced once more on grass in a Grade 2 Saratoga stake, but has been on the main track for his last eight starts.
Optimizer was 11th in the Kentucky Derby and is still looking for his second victory, but it will be with a new rider in the Preakness. Corey Nakatani has replaced Jon Court.
“If it’s not working in this game, you’ve got to try different things,” said Lukas, who has won the Preakness five times. “Jon Court’s riding well. In fact, since I switched, he’s won two races for me and rode brilliantly at Churchill. Two thoughts on that: No. 1 is getting the experience, getting somebody who’s been in one of these (Nakatani’s fourth Preakness mount). Jon hasn’t been in this arena or the Belmont. The other thing is: I selfishly think that my horse’s best race is going to be the Belmont. I really believe he’s (Nakatani) going to be a real good fit in the Belmont. The Belmont has been lost by riders more than horses – we all know that. We’re trying to get a little edge if we can.”
Optimizer will be Lukas’ 37th Preakness runner. His five winners include: Codex (his first starter in 1980), Tank’s Prospect (1985), Tabasco Cat (1994), Timber Country (1995) and Charismatic (1999). Lukas did not have a Preakness entrant in 2011.
TIGER WALK– Trainer Ignacio Correas sent out the son of Tale of the Cat for a 1 3/8-mile gallop at historic Sagamore Farm before making the short drive to Pimlico to attend Thursday morning’s Alibi Breakfast.
“He did really good,” said Correas, who is set to saddle his first Preakness runner. “He’s doing great. I think he’s going to improve with the ‘cheaters’ (blinkers). I don’t think the distance will be a problem; it’s actually going to benefit him.”
Tiger Walk’s last start came in the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct on April 7 when he finished fourth behind Gemologist. He is 0-for-3 his sophomore season, all in graded stakes, after winning a pair of races at 2.
Former Maryland riding champion Kent Desormeaux gets the mount for the first time, but they will break from the demanding inside post in the field of 11. The last Preakness winner to emerge from post 1 was Tabasco Cat in 1994, and you’d have to go back 34 years for the previous rail winner (Bally Ache).
“There have been 10 winners from post 1,” said Correas, who had obviously examined the probabilities after Thursday’s draw. “You need the horse, so I guess it’s up to him. We’re not going to go wide on the first turn; that’s for sure.”
PRETENSION– Kidwells Petite Stable’s Pretension galloped 1 ½ miles at Bowie Training Center Thursday morning.
The son of Bluegrass Cat captured the Canonero II Stakes at Pimlico at 1 1/16 miles last time out, and trainer Chris Grove is confident that the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness will be within his colt’s scope.
“With Main Streetin’ by Street Cry on the bottom, I think he’ll be able to get a mile and three-sixteenths,” said Grove, who saddled his first Preakness starter, Norman Asbjornson (11th), last year.
Javier Santiago will have the Preakness mount.